Sweden Deepens NATO Ties, Now Sees Vladimir Putin as 'Unpredictable'

The Swedish Foreign Ministry has told Newsweek the country plans to deepen its ties with the NATO alliance following fresh Russian aggression in Ukraine, as the Western world undergoes a historic fracture with Moscow.

Sweden, a European Union state in the heart of Scandinavia, is open to reviewing its long-standing non-NATO status following Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine and a pattern of belligerence towards Stockholm and its Western partners, the country's foreign ministry and one senior diplomat told Newsweek.

"At this moment, the Swedish government is not changing its line of not joining NATO, but we deepen our relations with NATO even further," a spokesperson at the ministry said.

"We realize that there is a changing security situation in Europe. We don't know the end of these events unfolding in Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia. So we have to make a thorough analysis and see what consequences this has for Swedish security."

The events of the past week have reignited the debate over NATO membership in Sweden and neighboring Finland, another non-NATO EU member that shares an 830 mile-long border with Russia.

The talk prompted a threat from Moscow of "serious military-political consequences" if either made moves towards NATO membership, threats that both Finnish and Swedish leaders dismissed as routine Russian belligerence.

Both nations, however, are facing a difficult choice. Stockholm and Helsinki must now tread a fine line between provoking a Russian reaction, and joining their Western partners in a seismic political realignment.

A senior Swedish diplomat, who asked not to be named so as to speak more candidly on the subject, told Newsweek, "the stakes are higher" since the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine began last week. "For many in Sweden, the case for joining NATO is stronger now than half a year ago."

"The security situation in Europe is changing quite rapidly," the diplomat said. President Vladimir Putin, they said, "is trying to bundle up all these aspirations—in terms of their own security perceptions—and now put them on the table and finally get them signed off."

Russia's opposition to NATO expansion, particularly in Scandinavia, is nothing new. In his 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference, Putin told NATO members it would be a "serious provocation" to expand the alliance further.

The president accused the U.S. of militarizing the European continent and signaled that Russia would re-emerge as a dominant post-Soviet global political force.

"Russia has probably held this view since the end of the 00s, when the new geopolitics of Putin were being formulated—with Putin's Munich Security Conference speech and so on," the diplomat said.

"It has been there for some time. Now it is pronounced and it's a bit more aggressive than before."

Long-held wisdom about Putin's calculus has been proven inaccurate. Few in Russia or abroad thought the president would embark on a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

There now seems no way back for the Kremlin. Russia is isolated, a pariah state that can only count on the likes of Syria and North Korea for support at the United Nations.

Moscow's threats to Sweden and Finland must be assessed within this new context, the diplomat told Newsweek hours before four Russian aircraft violated Swedish airspace. Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist called the flight "completely unacceptable."

"Up until two months ago, we didn't really seriously believe Russia would retaliate against Sweden for a possible application to join NATO," the senior diplomat said.

"With what's happening now, we can only say that Putin's actions are entirely unpredictable and they are totally disproportionate. An application, if it would happen, would be based on Sweden's interests, not on Russia's views."

Swedish soldiers in Visby NATO RUssia Ukraine
Soldiers from Sweden's Gotland's regiment patrol in Visby harbor on January 13, 2022. KARL MELANDER/TT NEWS AGENCY/AFP via Getty Images